State of the Simulator 2019


In November 2018, Navigraph in conjunction with several Flight Simulator Developers performed a survey of the Flight Sim Community. This survey resulted in roughly 15,000 members participating in what is reported as the largest sample survey to date. Navigraph released the data in a results PDF available from their website here. At the end of the paper, they perform some analysis primarily focusing on demographics. This isn’t surprising given that the majority of their partners are payware add-on developers.

I’m going to do some of my own analysis here on some items that I think are interesting. Full disclosure I lived primarily in the Microsoft FS and Prepar3D platform worlds, so all opinions will be from this perspective. My comments will mostly focus on the Prepar3D/MSFS side as that is where my expertise lies.

Section 1: The Big Sim on the Block

The Results:

On page 42 is the chart of installed simulators of participants. Raw installs indicates that X-Plane 11 is the leader. I would argue though that Prepar3D/MSFS platform still remains larger given it fractured nature and the cross use nature of addons in the Microsoft FS derived platform ecosystem.

Of the Prepar3D platforms, Version 4.x is the by in large dominant version having more people using it just in the most of the time category than all users of version 1, 2, and 3 combined.

Of Microsoft Flight Simulator derived platforms, FSX is still the leader in terms of raw install numbers (I combine FSX and FSX:Steam as they are 99% the same program). When looking at those who mostly use one platform though the lead is actually Prepar3D v4.

The Analysis:

X-Plane is a stronger second player than I would have thought. Also the install base for Prepar3D v4 surprised me some though as I didn’t think it was quite that big given it’s larger PC requirements. On the other hand V4 is such a step up from the previous MSFS derived platforms it will likely remain the main Prepar3D platform for users like FSX and FS9, unless a future version 5 results in another monumental step forward for Flight Sim

Section 2: HARDWARE

The Results:

On Page 43-44, the results show the operating systems and graphics cards in use.

Operating Systems:

  • 97% is on Windows.

  • 86% of those being on Windows 10.

For Graphics Cards.

  • 58% of users are on nVidia GTX 10 series cards.

  • 72% of users have NVidia GTX9 series cards or later.

  • 46% of users are using NVidia GTX 1070 or higher (Performance Wise).

The Analysis:

Good news for Developers as it appears that majority of users are using a modern graphics cards that are capable of using features such as Dynamic Lighting with minimal impact on performance.

One thing though I would be curious to find out is what processors and clock speeds users are running at. The reason being that Prepar3D v4 still has the bottle neck at the CPU due to it being largely still a single core program, though it can use multiple cores to load.

Section 3: Death of Freeware

The Results:

On Page 33 shows the result of the Freeware versus Payware.

  • 66% of Participants use more Payware than before.

  • 80% of Participants mostly use mainly Payware aircraft.

  • 55% of Participants mostly use mainly Payware scenery.

The Analysis:

There is a large lack of freeware these days. I venture to guess that this is largely due to the lack of a freeware option for model development. This is especially true in terms of aircraft. It’s not that surprising though given that in the hey day of Freeware, GMAX (a Freeware modeling program) was readily available and had Software Development Kits that were compatible.

These days you can use GMAX still but requires obtaining the original FSX SDK (only ever released with FSX Gold) and a lot of patience to get working. This combined with the growing incompatibility as Lockheed Martin improves the graphics of the original MSFS line has resulted in a road block for casual users to be able to learn modeling.

The only option for those who have not been in the Flight Simulator community long enough to have FSX Gold is to use Autodesk’s 3DSMax but at upwards of 150 dollars a month, it too much money for most users to be able to afford on something that does not generate revenue.

Unfortunately I don’t see this trend reversing. Lockheed Martin has stated development for non 3DSMax platforms is not planned and unless the original FSX SDK becomes readily available GMAX won’t be a freeware viable platform for most users.